Facing the freeze, group gets a Christmas gift: hotel rooms and movie night

A group of men who normally live in tents in Pilsen got two nights in hotels to help them through the freezing winter storm, courtesy of Aleta Clark. They enjoyed some warmth and also a trip to the movies.

SHARE Facing the freeze, group gets a Christmas gift: hotel rooms and movie night
Aleta Clark, the founder anti-gun violence group Hugs No Slugs, sits in the lobby of a downtown hotel.

Aleta Clark sits in the lobby of a hotel in downtown Chicago. Clark helped some of Chicago’s unhoused find shelter in area hotels during the brutal winter storm this week.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

A small group of men and one woman, used to staying on the city’s streets, found refuge in downtown hotels on Thursday and Friday when a life-threatening winter storm descended on Chicago, thanks to an altruistic South Side resident.

Most nights, they stay in tents beneath the Dan Ryan Expressway in Pilsen, but the subzero cold that hit the city this week was too much.

“Even with the survival skills we know, when it gets down there like this, it can still be dangerous,” Henry Thomas, 51, said.

Instead, the Pilsen bunch were lent a hand by Aleta Clark, who put them up hotels for the two nights and along the way, took them to the movies.

Clark, a South Sider who runs a cleaning company, stopped by the camp just as they were hunkering down for the storm Thursday, Thomas said.

The group said she has been visiting for years, bringing hot food and occasionally putting them up in hotels.

Henry Thomas, 51, in the lobby of a downtown hotel where he and other unhoused men were put up by Aleta Clark during the winter storm.

Henry Thomas, 51, in the lobby of a downtown hotel where he and other unhoused men were put up by Aleta Clark during the winter storm.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

She brought them to one hotel near Grant Park and then another in the Loop on Friday. The total for the two nights was hundreds of dollars, which Clark paid for herself and with the help of some donations by others.

Between stays, she also brought the group to see a showing of “Black Panther,” spending around $250 on concessions.

“We got us a bunch of junk food and sat there and watched a great movie,” Thomas said.

The cinematic sojourn was also a chance to remind the men of human warmth as they avoided the cold outside, Clark said.

“I’m trying to give them experiences that remind them that they are humans, so one day they will learn to treat themselves better,” she said.

Michael Haerd was moved to tears at the screening and again, Friday, just thinking about it.

“It gave me great memories of going to the movies when I was young,” he said.

For the group, the hotel rooms and movie night was a sort of Christmas miracle.

“We’re not where we want to be,” said Haerd, 61, “but we’re not down and out thanks to her.”

Michael Haerd stands in the lobby of a downtown hotel. Haerd is one of a few individuals who Aleta Clark helped find shelter in area hotels during a winter storm in December. “We’re not where we want to be,” Haerd, 61, told the Sun-Times then. “But we’re not down and out thanks to her.”

Michael Haerd said he was moved to tears when Aleta Clark treated him and a group of other unhoused men to a movie while they were staying warm amid a winter storm that brought subzero temperatures to the city this week.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South Side and West Side.

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